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art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

The Machine

She thought that The Machine would be easy compared to unstitching a tesseract. She didn't know when the creation had earned itself a name, complete with capital letters, but as she peered into another of the supplementary power coils, she thought it was around the same time she created her lab coat.
Every scientiste she'd read about, whether they studied the algedonics of whales south of the tropic of cancer, or were engineers developing bronze bas-reliefs to commemorate the fifteenth moon landing, deserved a coat to mark proficiency in their study.
She earned hers the day she melted down her mother's tiara for slug iron bolts instead of washing her face with morning dew. She had looked at the chitin wings that grew from her shoulders, and the delicate tracing of blue veins that gave them life. Then she cut them down with scissors and stitched them with catgut until it fell to her wrists and her knees and she was an appropriately attired scientiste.
But now the catalytic converters were being rascally. Their oak-gall gears weren't moving right. The Machine needed the sap to pump through them to get to its heart. She paused, the screwdriver a pleasant weight in her hand. The Machine's core had been finished in the dark hours of the night. It glowed in the center of the room, all shining green heartlight and rusted metal.
He wouldn't have appreciated it, she thought as she went back to work. He hadn't understood when she'd left her gardens to overgrow and began reading Emelie du Chatelet, Mary Somerville, Irene Curie-Joliot, and Rosalind Franklin.
It all came to a head last night. The damned play, she thought. She'd been too busy, trading hamadryad heartwood for selkie-skin balloons. She could not make the right heart for the Core and without the Core, The Machine would not work. He had come to her laboratory, invading the inner sanctum of any true scientiste. He wore velvet brocade and pointed shoes. He wore the holly and ash crown, as if he expected her to rut with him as she had before she found science. He left leaves on the floor as she riveted two yellow pistons together, ignoring how the iron left burns on her hands.
"My queen?" a voice says from the doorway, pulling her from memory
"Not now," she says. The turbines have begun to hum. The pulleys and winches that crisscross the ceiling have begun to move. The Machine is waking for the first time. She touches one of the relays: hollow roc femurs. They held the power the Machine needed. She had spent six months perfecting their shape.
"We have reports from abroad that the... the trees are dying, my queen." His majordomo stands in the doorway. He knew better than to cross her as his master did. He wears the doublet and harlequin of a court jester.
"Let him deal with it," she says as she checks the pressure gauges. They are made from phoenix pin bones. They withstand the forces she has harnessed in The Machine.
"Your lord husband is missing."
"How unfortunate," she says. The secretors have begun their work, pushing liquid from the extrusion capsules. Each drop is yellow and smells of carbonic acid. She looks to the Core and the heart of the Machine.
He had demanded of her, pulled at her hands as she tried to work. Why hadn't she come to the Play? Every year for a century and more they had always watched it on Midsummer and she hadn't come. What did she care that it was the longest day of the year, or that some playwright had written it for them? It was farce and she was the Mistress of Science.
If he'd left, it wouldn't have mattered. She would have gone back to testing, but he'd threatened. Not her, no. He'd threatened The Machine. He did not understand the need to create, to push oneself in the name of science and invention and innovation. He left leaves on the floor of her laboratory. He tried to break her creation.
"My lady," the small man said from the door.
"I am busy," she said again. The fluid from the extruders and the power from the turbines met together in the Core. Its small gears turned and moved. She held her breath, hoping, the thrill of it running goose bumps down her arms, beneath her jacket. Why make marshflowers bloom and crabgrass grow when real creation stood the darkness of her laboratory.
"Queen Titania," Puck said, pleading, "Oberon is missing."
The heart beat once, then twice. It beat out the mechanical pace of the world.
"No he's not," she said, and smiled.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

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